Friday, June 29, 2007

May 2007 - Marsala, Sicily - Wine & Windmills

From Erice, we drove down the western coast of Sicily to Marsala - the western-most point on the island, known for its eponymous wine and ancient salt marshes and windmills. Today, Marsala is Sicily's largest wine-producing center. In the 19th Century, Marsala, together with Trapani and Stagno (also on Sicily's west coast), was the largest producer of salt in Europe, exporting it as far away as Norway. Historically speaking, Marsala is important as the point where Garibaldi began his campaign, on behalf of the House of Savoy, to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (which comprised Sicily and the lower portion of the boot up to Naples) and create the unified Italy (1871) that we have today. But the city's history goes back a lot further than that. In fact, Marsala was founded in 397 BC by the colonists from Mozia, the small island off the coast of Marsala, who survived its destruction by Dionysius of Syracuse (not the Greek God). Thereafter, Marsala became a major Carthaginian city, but in the 3rd Century BC it was conquered by the Romans, who made it their main Mediterranean naval base.
As we drove into Marsala, we saw the famous salt marshes. Above, you can see the mindmills in the distance and a pile of unrefined salt in the foreground. We visited the salt marshes, during sunset, after we explored the town and took some amazing pictures (see below).
Our apartment was in the dead center of the old town, behind this elegant church (above) which had a dome and the beautiful baroque facade behind Casandra.
It was tremendous, with more rooms than we knew what to do with: 3 bedrooms, living room, den, full kitchen, bathroom, and outdoor veranda terrace.

Here's the terrace with a view of the characteristic rooftops of the old town.
The current plan of the old town is the Roman plan, but other quarters were added by the Arabs, who conquered the city in 830 A.D. and made it a flourishing trade center. The old town was originally completely surrounded by walls with gates, which were later redesigned in the Sicilain Baroque style. Above is a view of the gate facing the sea from inside the city walls.
And here's a shot of that same gate from outside the walls. Through the gate, you can see how pretty the old town is.
Above, Casandra stands on the town's main east-west thoroughfare. The buildings of the old town are really pretty and the streets are immaculate.

That main street leads to town's main square, containing the Cathedral and Town Hall. Here's Casandra in its center with the Town Hall behind her and part of the facade of the Cathedral on the right.

Here's the Sicilian Baroque facade of the Cathedral, which was founded by the Normans in the middle ages but wasn't completed until the 1900s, when it was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury. The consistent use of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture makes Marsala a quaint and characteristic Sicilian town worthy of at least a one-day visit.
And here we're still in the main square but facing the other direction, with the dome in the background on the left that caps the church behind our apartment and the majolica-tiled pyramid-like roof of the building, on the right, that we can see from our apartment's terrace.

After strolling through the quaint streets for ahile, we visited this small park (above) within the city walls. This impressive fountain was surrounded by 4 amazing ficus trees.

Here you can see how the trees' roots wrap around their trunks.
Around the corner from the park is another city gate connected to another domed church with a Sicilian Baroque facade. Notice the colorful flowers on the lightpost and hanging off the balconies.
That whole street is lined with flowers. Casandra is stading further up the street with that city gate in the distance. Here you can see the flowers hanging from each lightpost.

And here's a shot of that same gate from the outside that Casandra took as we drove to Marsala's famous salt marshes.

The salt marshes comprise several pools containing sea water of varying depth which evaporate and leave behind the raw salt. The windmills, like this one above, pull the water from the sea into and between the different pools.

The marshes and windmills, two of which are behind Casandra above, are currently being restored, in an effort to bring the salt output back up to their historical height, while preserving the ancient method of production.

Here we both are with those same two windmills with the distance. We moved closer to watch the sun set behind them and the many pools.

We found a nice bar overlooking the marshes and a small marina. As we had a drink and waited for the sun to set, we were thoroughly entertained by the Italian wedding party who stopped by to take sunset pictures and do what appeared to be a pre-reception traditional wedding dance.

At dusk, the whole area began to turn a pale gold.

It was stunning and got more beautiful literally by the minute.

Here are the newlyweds.

And here they set up to take one last phote in front of the windmills, marshes and salt piles.

Here's the windmill closest to our bar. We enjoyed a light, crisp glass of white Sicilian wine while looking at this view.

As the sun dropped closer to one of the Egadi islands off the west coast of Sicily, the sky turned an orangy-pink.

At the perfect moment, Casandra jumped in front of yet another set of newlyweds jockeying for a position in front of the windmill at sunset.

And of course I joined her for one of our best self photos yet.

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